The Foster-Mother’s Tale



A Narration in Dramatic Blank Verse.

But that entrance, Mother!
Can no one hear? It is a perilous tale!
No one.
My husband’s father told it me,
Poor old Leoni!—Angels rest his soul!5
He was a woodman, and could fell and saw
With lusty arm. You know that huge round beam
Which props the hanging wall of the old chapel;
Beneath that tree, while yet it was a tree,
He found a baby wrapt in mosses lined 10
With thistle-beards, and such small locks of wool
As hang on brambles. Well, he brought him home,
And reared him at the then Lord Velez’ cost.
And so the babe grew up a pretty boy,
A pretty boy, but most unteachable—15
And never learnt a prayer, nor told a bead,
But knew the names of birds, and mocked their notes,
And whistled, as he were a bird himself:
And all the autumn ’twas his only play
To gather seeds of wild flowers, and to plant them20
With earth and water on the stumps of trees.
A Friar, who sought for simples in the wood,
A gray-haired man—he loved this little boy,
The boy loved him—and, when the Friar taught him,
He soon could write with the pen; and from that time25
Lived chiefly at the Convent or the Castle.
So he became a very learned youth.
But, Oh! poor wretch—he read, and read, and read,
Till his brain turned—and ere his twentieth year
He had unlawful thoughts of many things: 30
And though he prayed, he never loved to pray
With holy men, nor in a holy place—
But yet his speech, it was so soft and sweet,
The late Lord Velez ne’er was wearied with him.
And once, as by the north side of the Chapel 35
They stood together, chained in deep discourse,
The earth heaved under them with such a groan,
That the wall tottered, and had well-nigh fallen
Right on their heads. My Lord was sorely frightened;
A fever seized him, and he made confession 40
Of all the heretical and lawless talk
Which brought this judgment: so the youth was seized
And cast into that cell. My husband’s father
Sobbed like a child—it almost broke his heart:
And once as he was working near the cell45
He heard a voice distinctly; ’twas the youth’s,
Who sang a doleful song about green fields,
How sweet it were on lake or wild savannah,
To hunt for food, and be a naked man,
And wander up and down at liberty. 50
Leoni doted on the youth, and now
His love grew desperate; and defying death,
He made that cunning entrance I described:
And the young man escaped.
’Tis a sweet tale.55
And what became of him?
He went on ship-board,
With those bold voyagers who made discovery
Of golden lands. Leoni’s younger brother
Went likewise; and when he returned to Spain, 60
He told Leoni, that the poor mad youth,
Soon after they arrived in that new world,
In spite of his dissuasion, seized a boat,
And, all alone, set sail by silent moonlight
Up a great river, great as any sea,65
And ne’er was heard of more: but ’tis supposed,
He lived and died among the savage men.